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Special Report — Retransmission Consent Wars 2012: Disputes Becoming Daily Nuisance

Customers sitting down to watch the local news in Louisville, Ky. on Time Warner Cable (formerly Insight) now get to see stories about ongoing bankruptcy woes at Eastman Kodak, house fires in Irondequoit, road work in Greece, and Scott Hetsko’s local forecast… for Rochester, N.Y.

WLKY in Louisville is no longer seen on former Insight cable systems (now owned by Time Warner Cable). In its place, Louisville viewers are watching WROC-TV in Rochester, N.Y.  Here is why. (3 minutes)

No, it is not some weird sunspot reception and nobody transported you from Kentucky to western New York while you were sleeping. It’s simply another epic battle waged in:

RETRANSMISSION CARRIAGE CONSENT WARS: 2012

“Not getting the channels you are paying for does not necessarily entitle you to a refund, but does require you to pay more when a deal is eventually struck.”

WESH-TV in Daytona Beach/Orlando, Fla. is one of the Hearst-owned stations affected in the dispute with Insight/Time Warner Cable/Bright House Networks.

These skirmishes used to be commonplace around the end of the year, when carriage agreements between cable, satellite, and telephone companies with cable networks and local stations came up for renewal. When the programmer passed a figure written on a folded up piece of paper across the table to your pay television provider, the shock and awe of that number, occasionally 100-300 percent more than the year before, was the opening shot in a battle that now increasingly leads to favorite local stations or cable channels being stripped from your lineup.

In Louisville, that is precisely what happened to WLKY-TV, one of 15 stations owned by Hearst Television, taken off the lineup when Time Warner Cable/Insight/Bright House Networks could not successfully negotiate a renewal agreement. Time Warner complained Hearst wanted 300% more for each of the affected stations, an increase sure to be passed along to cable customers already long weary of endless annual rate increases. That was the same story told in other cities affected by what is now a week-long blackout. In Greensboro/Winston-Salem, N.C., Time Warner customers are doing without WXII-TV. Kansas City customers lost two local stations owned by Hearst — KMBC and KCWE. Two stations are also missing from Bright House’s lineup in Orlando: WESH and WKCF.

Hearst Television’s general manager and president of WLKY has stopped referring to those watching the station simply as “viewers.” Glenn Haygood now calls them “subscribers.” Haygood talks with WHAS Radio about the dispute and what he thinks about Insight/Time Warner Cable. (10 minutes)

Insight/Time Warner Cable customers in Louisville, Ky. are now watching CBS shows on WROC-TV from Rochester, N.Y.

But why are Louisville viewers now watching the boating forecast for Lake Ontario, several hundred miles away? Because Time Warner Cable thinks it has a signed contract with Nexstar Broadcasting Group that lets them turn several Nexstar-owned stations into “superstations,” importing them in cities where contract disputes have knocked the local station off the cable lineup. In Louisville, WLKY, a CBS affiliate, has been replaced by WROC, the CBS affiliate in Rochester. In Greensboro and several other cities, WXII, an NBC affiliate, has been replaced with WBRE in Wilkes Barre, Penn. Some other Time Warner customers are instead watching WTWO out of Terre Haute, Ind., for NBC shows.

It represents a half-measure that Time Warner Cable’s Jeff Simmermon tells Stop the Cap! is “making the best of a tough situation.”

Viewers are naturally outraged.

“I’ve always wanted to know the weather and news in Rochester, Buffalo, Ontario and Caribou,” Kelly Grether teased. “Louisville did make [WROC’s weather] map believe it or not.”

Others are simply confused and engaged in must-flee TV.

“I saw the news coming on,” Greensboro resident Mona Wright told the News & Record. “It didn’t take me but one minute to figure out that these counties were nowhere around us; I changed the channel.”

Some Louisville viewers are even assuming the sales and discounts being advertised on WROC are good in Kentucky as well (often, they are not).

For now, it is difficult for Kentucky viewers to know what WROC is airing because the local on-screen program guide has not been updated to include listings for the Rochester station. Time Warner is pushing a lot of viewers to WROC’s website for program information.

Viewers hoping to practice their Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune skills during the dinner hour lost that opportunity altogether in some cities, while in the Triad of North Carolina, viewers discovered the two shows on two different channels at the same time.

For now, WROC has completely ignored its new Kentucky audience, but WBRE’s morning anchors now regularly acknowledge and welcome their viewers from several states away.

WFTV in Orlando reports on Bright House Networks’ customers being shut out of WESH-TV in Daytona Beach after the cable operator failed to meet Hearst Television’s demands for an increase in carriage payments.  (2 minutes)

The dispute has since enlarged to bring in side players who are unimpressed with Time Warner’s creative problem-solving:

  • Impacted stations now off Time Warner’s lineup think the “new” stations on the lineup are about as honorable as employing scab workers during a union strike;
  • Nexstar, for the second time, declares Time Warner is illegally importing their stations to unauthorized places. They are threatening to complain to the FCC and possibly sue to stop the practice. Nexstar earlier complained about a similar dispute in upstate New York which left viewers in northern New York watching WBRE in Wilkes-Barre. But the carriage dispute was settled quickly enough for WBRE to go back to being  viewable only in Pennsylvania, ending the dispute;
  • Syndicated program owners sell shows like Wheel of Fortune on a “market exclusive” basis, which means competing local stations already paying for syndicated shows do not want out of area stations also carrying those shows to local audiences, diluting their audience.
  • Advertisers on stations now off the lineup paid ad rates based on tens of thousands of cable viewers who are now probably watching another station. Some are demanding “make goods” or outright refunds to get the value for money they were originally promised.

But nobody is more caught in the middle than consumers, especially those paying for channels they are no longer getting.

“I want my money back,” says Orlando Bright House customer Luis Fernandez. “I have lost two stations on my lineup and my bill should be going down to compensate, but Bright House is refusing to credit me.”

Time Warner Cable does not usually give refunds either, arguing that its customers pay for a package of channels and the technology that delivers those networks to customers. Giving a refund for the loss of one or two stations would be tantamount to the industry’s worst nightmare: getting customers used to the idea of paying individually for every channel.

One customer willing to make himself a major nuisance in Wauwatosa, near Milwaukee, Wis., finally wore Time Warner down and secured a $5 a month discount on his bill for the length of the dispute that knocked Milwaukee’s WISN off his lineup.

“[I called] Time Warner to voice my disgust in them putting me (the paying customer) in the middle of their negotiation failures, and after reaching a ‘supervisor,’ I was able to get a discount on my monthly bill,” the reader told the Journal-Sentinel. “It wasn’t easy, but I did it.”

Hearst is encouraging viewers to drop Time Warner like a hot potato and switch to AT&T U-verse or a satellite provider like DirecTV. Negotiations seem to be continuing on a sporadic basis, but one week later, customers heading for the door have already left or are simply watching the local news on another channel.

Satellite Showdown — DirecTV vs. Viacom: Playing Down and Dirty With Everyone

Viacom turns the tables on DirecTV’s clever ads to lambaste the satellite provider for cutting off more than two dozen cable channels owned by Viacom.  (1 minute)

If a customer took Hearst’s advice, they might find themselves out of the frying pan and into the fire. Newly arriving DirecTV customers can join the Anger Party 20 million satellite customers are now throwing over a much larger, higher profile dispute between the satellite provider and Viacom. Collateral damage: the loss of networks including Palladia, Centric, Tr3s, CMT, Logo, NickToons, VH1 Classic, TeenNick, Nick Jr., [email protected], Spike, BET, VH1, TV Land, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV.

Some financial analysts are calling the dispute the mother-of-all-program-fee-battles, and as they watch both sides dig in, some warn it could mean DirecTV customers won’t be watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart until August.

DirecTV says Viacom wants a 30% rate increase to renew its contract to carry the company’s networks. That is comparatively cheap contrasted with the prices Hearst wants Time Warner Cable to now pay. Analysts expect DirecTV and Viacom will eventually settle their dispute by agreeing to a 27% rate increase, but nobody knows how long the two will battle it out before an inevitable agreement is reached.

Regardless of the timing, customers will likely pay the price. Nomura analyst Michael Nathanson informed his Wall Street clients DirecTV will end up paying Viacom $2.85 per subscriber — about 60 cents more per month than it pays today. That’s tough for DirecTV to swallow, and probably even harder to pass along to customers. Satellite TV providers have some of the country’s most-frugal pay television customers who are especially resistant to rate increases.

The dispute is so high profile, both companies are bringing out high-powered executives and show talent to argue their respective cases.

Millions of dollars are at stake, and both Viacom and DirecTV are willing to fight to the death, even leaving customers on the battlefield.

Not so fast, says DirecTV CEO Michael White, seen here presenting DirecTV’s position in the Viacom dispute for the benefit of concerned customers.  (1 minute)

“All we are trying to get is a fair deal for our customers and I’m sorry our customers are being forced into the middle of this,” DirecTV’s Michael White said. “We just think we pay a half a billion dollars a year and a billion dollar increase over five years, over 30 percent, is not justified by the marketplace or fair relative to our largest competitors or by their ratings.”

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman counters, “In the last seven years since we did the last DirecTV deal, we have successfully and peacefully concluded affiliate agreements with every major distributor in the U.S. We are prepared to move forward. It’s unfortunate consumers for the first time are not able to enjoy our channels,” said Dauman, adding, “I don’t want to negotiate in public.”

DirecTV was telling its customers it can watch many of the missing shows for free online, until Viacom reportedly began removing that direct viewing option last week. That hardball tactic could impact everyone trying to stream Viacom’s shows — DirecTV customer or not.

“We’ve temporarily slimmed down our offerings, as DirecTV markets them as an alternative to having our networks,” a Viacom spokesman told CNNMoney. “The online content is intended to serve as a complimentary marketing tool for our partners.”

“At least they were honest about the reasons why they pulled this,” said Stop the Cap! reader Dick Armlo, a DirecTV customer in Idaho. “But fortunately, you can still find a lot of the shows on Amazon’s video on demand and Hulu.”

Customers threatening to switch providers often discover the new neighborhood they move to is just as bad as the one they left.

Dish Network customers are currently enduring a long-standing dispute with Cablevision-owned AMC Networks. The result is no AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WeTV on Dish. AMC is telling Dish customers to turn their dish into a birdbath and head elsewhere… perhaps to AT&T U-verse which just recently averted its own blackout with AMC over the same channels. AT&T customers can expect part of their next rate increase to cover the negotiated rate hike AMC won for itself — the one AT&T agreed to on your behalf. After all, it’s your money at stake, not theirs.

CNBC talks with Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman to get his views about the dispute with one of his best customers — DirecTV.  (2 minutes)

Comcast/Time Warner Cable Biggest Broadband Winners; DSL Withers on the Vine

Won 1.1 million new customers in 2011

Comcast and Time Warner Cable collectively picked up more than 1.5 million new customers in 2011, with most of the growth coming from dissatisfied DSL subscribers seeking better broadband speeds.

Leichtman Research Group, Inc. (LRG) found the eighteen largest cable and telephone providers in the US — representing about 93% of the market — acquired 3 million net additional high-speed Internet subscribers in 2011. Annual net broadband additions in 2011 were 88% of the total in 2010.

The top broadband providers now account for 78.6 million subscribers — with cable companies having over 44.3 million broadband subscribers, and telephone companies having over 34.3 million subscribers.

Stalled growth

Despite AT&T’s position as the second largest Internet Service Provider in the country, the company only picked up 117,000 new customers in 2011.  In contrast, Time Warner Cable, with 6 million fewer customers, added almost a half-million new broadband subscriptions last year.

Frontier Communications, which made broadband a primary target for expansion, has not seen considerable growth either.  The company only added just short of 38,000 new broadband customers last year, almost all getting DSL, often at speeds of 1-3Mbps.

Other key findings include:

  • The top cable companies netted 75% of the broadband additions in 2011;
  • The top cable companies added 2.3 million broadband subscribers in 2011 — 98% of the total net additions for the top cable companies in 2010;
  • The top telephone providers added 750,000 broadband subs in 2011 — 68% of the total net additions for the top telephone companies in 2010;
  • In the fourth quarter of 2011, cable and telephone providers added 765,000 broadband subscribers — with cable companies accounting for 82% of the broadband additions in the quarter.

Now serving 10.3 million

“Despite a high level of broadband penetration in the US, the top broadband providers added 88% as many subscribers in 2011 as in 2010,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, Inc. “At the end of 2011, the top broadband providers in the US cumulatively had over 78.6 million subscribers, an increase of nearly 25 million over the past five years.”

Americans are increasingly treating broadband as an essential “utility” service, as fundamental as electricity or clean water.

The majority of consumers who lack the service either consider it irrelevant in their lives (a factor that increases with the age of the surveyed respondent), cannot obtain service from their provider because of their location, or cannot afford the service.

Broadband Internet Provider Subscribers at End of 4Q 2011 Net Adds in 2011
Cable Companies
Comcast 18,147,000 1,159,000
Time Warner^ 10,344,000 491,000
Cox* 4,500,000 130,000
Charter 3,654,600 252,900
Cablevision 2,965,000 73,000
Suddenlink 951,400 65,100
Mediacom 851,000 13,000
Insight^ 550,000 25,500
Cable ONE 451,082 25,680
Other Major Private Cable Companies** 1,925,000 55,000
Total Top Cable 44,339,082 2,290,180
Telephone Companies
AT&T 16,427,000 117,000
Verizon 8,670,000 278,000
CenturyLink 5,554,000 238,000
Frontier^^ 1,735,000 37,833
Windstream 1,355,300 53,600
FairPoint 314,135 24,390
Cincinnati Bell 257,300 1,200
Total Top Telephone Companies 34,312,735 750,023
Total Broadband 78,651,817 3,040,203

Sources: The Companies and Leichtman Research Group, Inc.
* LRG estimate
** Includes LRG estimates for Bright House Networks, and RCN
^ Totals prior to Time Warner Cable’s acquisition of Insight completed on 2/29/2012
^^ LRG estimate does not include wireless subscribers
Company subscriber counts may not represent solely residential households
Totals reflect pro forma results from system sales and acquisitions
Top cable and telephone companies represent approximately 93% of all subscribers

Time Warner Cable Reviewing Its Newest Acquisition: Insight Communications

Phillip Dampier March 8, 2012 Consumer News, Insight, TWC (see Charter), Video Comments Off on Time Warner Cable Reviewing Its Newest Acquisition: Insight Communications

Time Warner Cable has begun a review of operations at its latest completed acquisition, Insight Communications, as it begins to transition customers away from the Insight brand towards Time Warner Cable.

Insight’s customers in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana won’t see changes immediately.  Time Warner says it will be “business as usual” as the company begins to manage its newest service areas.  Time Warner Cable spokesperson Mary Jo Green said the company plans no immediate channel or price changes, but some Insight subscribers are worried about the long term fate of the NFL Network, which has been a part of Insight’s cable lineup but has not been carried by any Time Warner Cable systems.

Time Warner says its engineering staff will be examining the current state of Insight’s infrastructure — a key factor in determining what services already familiar to Time Warner customers can be extended to Insight customers.  Most of them involve the cable television operation.  Features like “Look Back” and “Start Over” have not been available on Insight’s cable systems.  Insight broadband offers tiers of 10, 20, 30, and 50Mbps — same as Time Warner.  The phone service is similar as well.

Kentucky will become one of Time Warner’s largest service areas as the company absorbs Insight.  Time Warner and Insight traditionally operated as neighbors in different parts of the state. Insight served most of the city of Henderson while Time Warner Cable covered most of Henderson’s suburbs.

Time Warner Cable’s acquisition of Insight adds more than 760,000 customers, including 550,000 broadband, 670,000 cable, and 290,000 phone subscribers across three states.

WTVQ in Louisville tells Kentucky Insight subscribers to get ready for the Time Warner Cable logo.  Time Warner completed its acquisition of Insight Communications last week.  (1 minute)

Time Warner Cable Acquires Insight Communications for $3 Billion – $1B Below Asking Price

Phillip Dampier August 15, 2011 Consumer News, Insight, TWC (see Charter) 1 Comment

Time Warner Cable’s position as second largest cable company in the United States got some beefing up this morning with news it was acquiring 750,000 subscribers from Insight Communications in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio for $3 billion dollars in an all-cash deal.

That’s $1 billion less than asked by seller-owner Carlyle Group, which has been shopping the tenth largest cable operator around for months.

For many Insight subscribers, it means another new owner.  Most of Insight’s customers have been cobbled together from other cable systems, including Tele-Communications, Inc., AT&T Cable, Comcast, and even a few former Time Warner service areas.  For the past several years, Insight has been run under the ownership of equity investment firm Carlyle Group, which has treated it as an investment, waiting to be sold off to the highest bidder.  In 2007, Carlyle found no buyers willing to meet their asking price, and it appeared this year’s negotiations were headed in the same direction, as Time Warner Cable (among others) dismissed the $4 billion asking price as overpriced.

But this year, Carlyle apparently was unwilling to hold on to their investment, and according to an insider, quickly called Time Warner Cable after other potential bidders including WideOpen West, Mediacom Communications, Cablevision and Charter Cable dropped out.  Time Warner Cable repeated their offer of an all-cash purchase of $3 billion, and Carlyle accepted.

With the acquisition, Insight’s brand will eventually be dropped in favor of Time Warner Cable, who expects to realize $100 million in “cost savings” from bulk programming purchase deals and cost cutting measures.  Time Warner Cable also gets to realize tax benefits when it inherits Insight’s heavy net losses of $300 million, which will reduce the larger cable operator’s tax liabilities.

For customers, programming lineup changes are unlikely, and Insight already is aggressively deploying DOCSIS 3 for its broadband customers.  Time Warner is likely to realign Insight’s broadband packages closer to standard Road Runner packages.  Insight currently sells 10/1, 20/1.5, 30/3, and 50/5Mbps service.  Time Warner Cable routinely sells 10/1, 15/1, 30/5, and 50/5Mbps service in most DOCSIS 3-enabled service areas.

Time Warner’s acquisition of Insight bolsters its earlier purchase this year of cable properties in Kentucky and Tennessee formerly owned by another midwestern cable operator — NewWave Communications.

‘Measuring Broadband America’ Report Released Today: How Your Provider Measured Up

Phillip Dampier August 2, 2011 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Cablevision, CenturyLink, Charter Spectrum, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Cox, Frontier, Insight, Mediacom, Online Video, Public Policy & Gov't, Qwest, Rural Broadband, TWC (see Charter), Verizon Comments Off on ‘Measuring Broadband America’ Report Released Today: How Your Provider Measured Up

The Federal Communications Commission today released MEASURING BROADBAND AMERICA, the first nationwide performance study of residential wireline broadband service in the United States.  The study examined service offerings from 13 of the largest wireline broadband providers using automated, direct measurements of broadband performance delivered to the homes of thousands of volunteers during March 2011.

Among the key findings:

Providers are being more honest about their advertised speeds: Actual speeds are moving closer to the speeds promised by those providers.  Back in 2009, the FCC found a greater disparity between advertised and delivered speeds.  But the Commission also found that certain providers are more likely to deliver than others, and certain broadband technologies are simply more reliable and consistent.

Fiber-to-the-Home service was the runaway winner, consistently delivering even better speeds than advertised (114%).  Cable broadband delivered 93% of advertised speeds, while DSL only managed to deliver 82 percent of what providers promise.  Fiber broadband speeds are consistent, with just a 0.4 percent decline in speeds during peak usage periods.

Cable companies are still overselling their networks.  The FCC found during peak usage periods (7-11pm), 7.3 percent of cable-based services suffered from speed decreases — generally a sign a provider has piled too many customers onto an overburdened network.  One clear clue of overselling: the FCC found upload speeds largely unaffected.

DSL has capacity and speed issues.  DSL also experienced speed drops, with 5.5 percent of customers witnessing significant speed deterioration, which could come from an overshared D-SLAM, where multiple DSL customers connect with equipment that relays their traffic back to the central office, or from insufficient connectivity to the Internet backbone.

Some providers are much better than others.  The FCC found some remarkable variability in the performance of different ISPs.  Let’s break several down:

  • Verizon’s FiOS was the clear winner among the major providers tested, winning top performance marks across the board.  Few providers came close;
  • Comcast had the most consistently reliable speeds among cable broadband providers.  Cox beat them at times, but only during hours when few customers were using their network;
  • AT&T U-verse was competitive with most cable broadband packages, but is already being outclassed by cable companies offering DOCSIS 3-based premium speed tiers;
  • Cablevision has a seriously oversold broadband network.  Their results were disastrous, scoring the worst of all providers for consistent service during peak usage periods.  Their performance was simply unacceptable, incapable of delivering barely more than half of promised speeds during the 10pm-12am window.
  • It was strictly middle-of-the-road performance for Time Warner Cable, Insight, and CenturyLink.  They aren’t bad, but they could be better.
  • Mediacom continued its tradition of being a mediocre cable provider, delivering consistently below-average results for their customers during peak usage periods.  They are not performing necessary upgrades to keep up with user demand.
  • Most major DSL providers — AT&T, Frontier, and Qwest — promise little and deliver as much.  Their ho-hum advertised speeds combined with unimpressive scores for time of day performance variability should make all of these the consumers’ last choice for broadband service if other options are available.

Some conclusions the FCC wants consumers to ponder:

  1. For basic web-browsing and Voice-Over-IP, any provider should be adequate.  Shop on price. Consumers should not overspend for faster tiers of service they will simply not benefit from all that much.  Web pages loaded at similar speeds regardless of the speed tier chosen.
  2. Video streaming benefits from consistent speeds and network reliability.  Fiber and cable broadband usually deliver faster speeds that can ensure reliable high quality video streaming.  DSL may or may not be able to keep up with our HD video future.
  3. Temporary speed-boost technology provided by some cable operators is a useful gimmick.  It can help render web pages and complete small file downloads faster.  It can’t beat fiber’s consistently faster speeds, but can deliver a noticeable improvement over DSL.

More than 78,000 consumers volunteered to participate in the study and a total of approximately 9,000 consumers were selected as potential participants and were supplied with specially configured routers. The data in the report is based on a statistically selected subset of those consumers—approximately 6,800 individuals—and the measurements taken in their homes during March 2011. The participants in the volunteer consumer panel were recruited with the goal of covering ISPs within the U.S. across all broadband technologies, although only results from three major technologies—DSL, cable, and fiber-to-the-home—are reflected in the report.

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